Photography by Danny Fulgencio.

Margaret Windham had nearly eight years’ experience working in the George W. Bush White House, three years’ experience as the vice president and director of marketing at Northern Trust in Dallas and four years’ experience as the senior director of individual giving at United Way. But when she joined the Café Momentum team in 2016, the veteran businesswoman had to forge her own path in a new position — social work restaurateur. So few restaurants have social-impact goals, the East Dallas neighbor had to invent the title after taking the job. Café Momentum revolutionized the food scene in Dallas when it launched in 2011 with the mission of teaching life skills and vocational skills to teenagers who have spent time in juvenile detention. As chief operating and development officer, Windham oversees the board of directors and a staff of about 20 people, who have mentored more than 400 students who have completed the 12-month internship program. She also ensures the dual restaurant-nonprofit can continue to grow by managing fundraising operations and event planning.

Margaret Windham

How she became an executive at Café Momentum: I was leading individual giving for United Way, and they have a program called Social Innovation Fund. It’s meant for programs that don’t have outcomes yet. Café Momentum was the first project we funded. I got to know founder Chad Houser really well. He would bribe me with drinks in exchange for tips on fundraising and development. During those conversations I said, “You’re not ready for this yet, but once you have a real development strategy, call me.” At the end of 2015, he did. 

On running a unique restaurant: When I joined, we needed to start raising money. We needed to start diversifying our funding stream and putting parameters around what the program would look like. The operations piece is running a restaurant. But the vocational skill of learning the restaurant business is just one piece of our internship. Our program team works to create an ecosystem of support — life skills and social skills. I make sure those two teams are married. There’s no such thing as a social work restaurateur, other than our founder and now, probably, me. 

On her wedding: The interns catered my wedding to Chad Windham in 2016. The kids love doing catering events. They danced at our wedding, and it created a unique experience for me and my husband, as well as for all our guests. They made it such a fun time.

Photo by Danny Fulgencio

The hardest part of her job: The hardest part is figuring out what is most urgent. We have to have money. We have to have a functioning restaurant to teach them a vocational skill. There are a lot of pieces of seemingly equal importance. We have to make sure any balls that we drop don’t affect our young people. The whole point of the internship is to help them advocate for themselves because they’re part of a system that has deemed them as throwaways. 

Favorite success story: One young lady — it’s probably her third time to go through the internship program — was struggling with drug addiction when she first joined us. She had no parental support and dropped out of school. She couldn’t commit to the program and wasn’t ready to change her life. Now she’s back in a totally different place. Watching that transition is so inspirational. We have requests that she be in events because people love her so much.

What’s next for Café Momentum: We’re working on expansion. We did our first pop-up outside Dallas in Nashville, Tennessee, in April. Our CEO was in New York meeting with the NFL — getting them behind expansion efforts and getting players involved with the kids. Right now, it’s a lot of putting things on paper and building a playbook. I’m intimately involved in that because I’ve built this one here. It’s so rewarding thinking of more kids in other communities getting the same help. 

What she’s most proud of: As cliché as it sounds, I’m most proud of the kids who are willing to put in the time and work to change their lives and the team we’ve built to help them do that. We don’t do the work for them. We’re not saving them. They’re saving themselves. But they have to want it. We can’t fight for them harder than they’re willing to fight for themselves. When that doesn’t happen, that’s hard and emotional to swallow because we want to do everything we can.

On work-life balance: You take this home with you whether you mean to or not. It’s not a 9-to-5 job. It’s always running through my head. It feels personal, and this isn’t a job anymore for me. It’s part of our family. My husband has done a lot of photography on the walls and helps us do videos. I ask him all the time if I can bring kids home to live with us.

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.